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Finding our Voices

I think for many of us the journey of becoming a writer has been one of finding the voice of our character and polishing that voice to perfection. When that magical moment occurs and we find our characters are not just our own, but travelers in the wide world of books, we are faced with decisions about our author voice and how we will represent ourselves off the page. In many ways, we are in the golden age of the author voice with websites, book trailers, twitter, social networking, and pod casts. One of the benefits of belonging to this class has been the yearlong fellowship of writers, searching out just this issue. How will we as authors speak to our readership and in particular our beloved booksellers, librarians and teachers--our BLTs as we have come to call them? From the beginning our champion of voice-finding has been Albert Boris. He is Bev Patt's co-president, and he was the one that helped us forge a group identity by making time for water cooler chat in our business meetings. It was that bonding over the silly and sometimes heartfelt pieces of our writing lives that we really found our voice as a group. As some of our faithful blog readers know, Albert suffered a stroke almost exactly one year ago and as a result temporarily lost his voice. I confess this is something I greatly fear. Communication is my world and to lose it is almost to painful to contemplate. For weeks I simply could not believe that our young, vibrant and energetic Albert was not chiming in on our emails. It broke my heart to have him miss the joy of launching the class when he had been at the heart of our group's formation. In his first few messages to the group, a string of disjointed letters was all he could manage. But our Albert didn't give up. His year has been one of learning to find his words again, and it has been a great inspiration to me. The first time he wrote an email with a whole sentence that made sense, I cried with relief and joy and pride. Albert joined the group of 2K9 authors who presented their books at Anderson's Bookstore in Chicago this summer. He had made enormous progress in his speech, and we found him as warm and funny and generous as the Albert we had met in our hundreds of emails a year earlier. A few weeks later I was very honored to read from his book CRASH INTO ME at an SCBWI conference in Maryland as a part of our Class of 2K9 panel. It is a remarkable book about the difficult topic of teen depression and suicide. Albert handles the material with the wisdom of a person who has served as a school counselor for decades and the humor of someone who wears that wisdom lightly. CRASH INTO ME is not a book I thought I'd like, but it won me over with the strength of Albert's writing and the importance of the topic. If I lived closer I would have spent the year bringing casseroles and offering to carpool Albert's kids and all the other things a community does. But hot dish does not travel well from Oregon to New Jersey, and I have never met Albert in person. But every time I visit a book store, for an event or just for browsing, I chat up the book seller and bring out my handy 2K9 post card with all of our beautiful covers on it, and say, "Have you read Crash Into Me? This is a voice you just have to hear!" It's not dinner but in my opinion, of all the things we've done as a class this year, it's the one-to-one conversations that matter. "Read this. It's a voice you should hear."

Alumni Night! Celebrating the classof2K8

I think my favorite part of the entire Class of 2K9 journey has been sharing the excitement of my first book sale with 21 other fellow travelers in the experience of being a debut author. I was lucky enough to experience the excitement twice, as I was with the Class of 2K8 for several months before my book moved to 2009.
When Bev Patt and I moved to the leadership of the Class of 2K9, our 2K8 sisters were there with their support and good counsel whenever we needed it. We are grateful for all they did to pave the way for our class, and so as the school year draws to a close we’d like to celebrate all they’ve accomplished in the last six months. I, for one, am dazzled by their success!

Laurel Snyder has a second book coming out on May 26. "Any Which Wall." from Random House.

Lisa Schroeder’s second YA novel was released January 2009, titled FAR FROM YOU. A kind librarian made a book trailer which can be viewed here: http://naomibates.blogspot.com/2009/03/booktrailer-far-from-you-by-lisa.html

I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME was chosen as a 2009 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers!

Terri Clark has 2 new YA books. Flirtin' with the Monster anthology
BenBella Books, May 5, 2009 AND Hollyweird, writing as Tess Clark, Flux Books
Spring/Summer 2010.

Marissa Doyle has a second book out in 2009, BETRAYING SEASON (Henry Holt, September 2009).  Her third book from Henry Holt in the works for 2010, a companion to Bewitching Season and Betraying Season tentatively titled (but sure to be re-named!) The Waterloo Plot?   The paperback edition of Bewitching Season is due out this September.

Some 2k8ers (me, Ellen, PJ) are among a group of MG and YA fantasy writers who've formed a new community on LJ, called The Enchanted Inkpot:

Ellen Booraem is proud to announce that the April issue of VOYA included The Unnameables in its list of Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, 2008 .  It was nominated for the 2010 edition of YALSA's Best Books for Young Adults, and was runner-up for the Maine LIterary Award for children's books.

Daphne Grab's book Alive and Well is on the Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of 2009 list.  

Elizabeth Bunce who I hope you all know won the first ever ALA Morris Award for a debut Young Adult novel for her book A Curse as Dark as Gold.
She also has a few things coming from Scholastic: STARCROSSED in fall 2010 and its sequel, LIAR'S MOON sometime thereafter (fantasy adventures about a young thief who finds herself mixed up in a religious civil war), and she has a ghost story called "In for a Penny" (set in the same world as CURSE) in the Scholastic Book Clubs exclusive anthology BONES, edited by Lois Metzger, coming this fall.

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb just sold her next mg novel. "Selling Hope, Or Gaining Glorious Asylum From Mr Halley's Fiery Beast" It’s due out Fall 2011 from Feiwel
& Friends!.

Courtney Schienmel has 3 books in the works. Positively, Simon & Schuster, September 8, 2009, Sincerely, Sophie/Sincerely, Katie, Simon & Schuster, Fall 2010, and she just sold YOU CAN'T EVEN MEASURE IT to Simon & Schuster, for publication sometime in 2011

Barrie Summy is continuing the multiple book trend in Class of 2K8 authors with The second book in her humorous tween mysteries series I So Don't Do Spooky. It’s out Dec. 8 2009. The third book in the series, I So Don't Do Makeup, will be out May 2010.

Jennifer Bradbury’s first novel Shift has an impressive list of state awards and Jennifer was kind enough to send links for all of them. Thanks!
Capitol Choices—Washington DC
Utah Beehive Award Nominee
Rhode Island Teen Book Award
Vermont—Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award
Wait that’s not all! Shift was also a 2009 ALA Best Book for Young Adults.
Coming soon from Atheneum: APART, WRAPPED, and THE WEIGHT OF A HEART

Nina Nelson has exciting news about her work-in-progress. It’s YA novel tentatively titled WALNUT GIRL and it just won first place in the Tassy's—which is a statewide contest for Connecticut authors. Bringing the Boy Home placed second in the MG category in 2004 before winning the Ursula Nordstrom and now she’s finally am taking home the GOLD!

Zu Vincent has good news on both the fiction and non-fiction front. The Lucky Place was chosen as an Honor Book for the 2009 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People and is on the 2009 Kansas State Reader Circle's Recommended List. The Lucky Place is a 2008-2009 PSLA (Pennsylvania School Librarian's Association) Top 40 YA Books List Pick. 
Booklist gave a starred review to her March, 2009 Scholastic biography Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia.

Jenny Meyerhoff gets the prize for best opportunity to schmooze. Her book, Third Grade Baby was the Friends of American Writers Juvenile Honor book. (An award for emerging mid-western authors.) She went to a luncheon, give a speech, and got to sit next to Blue Balliet, the winner!

M. P. Barker's A Difficult Boy has been selected as one of the 2009 Notable Books for a Global Society by the International Reading Association. It was named one of the 12 best young adult novels for 2007-2008 by Brigham Young University's Education Librarian, and it was placed on the Anokaberry list as one of the 20 best middle-grade books of 2008.

Stacy Nyikos's Dragon Wishes received an Honorable Mention at the San Francisco Book Festival, which was really cool because the book is set just north of San Francisco.

Last but not least, Class co-president Jody Feldman (whose first name I shamelessly stole for the main character of my 2nd book because I love it, thanks Jody!) has an impressive list of award nominations for her book, The Gollywhopper Games Texas Bluebonnet, Dorothy Canfield Fisher (Vermont), Pennsylvania Reader's Choice, Flicker Tale (North Dakota), 2008 Midwest Booksellers Choice Awards Honor Book, Missouri Writers' Guild Best Juvenile Book. Her new book, The Seventh Level  will be available in the summer of 2010 from HarperCollins/Greenwillow.

Congratulations all of you. You're an inspiration!
By far my favorite part of belonging to the class of 2K9 is the authors I’ve met and the connections we’ve made that I’m sure will last long after our debut year is over. Suzanne Morgan Williams is not just a debut novelist but a regional adviser for SCBWI (the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and the author of a number of works of non-fiction. Her book was a real inspiration to read--an honest look at the lives of families that seldom appear in childrens literature. It’s my pleasure to introduce Suzanne Morgan Williams and Bull Rider.

Rosanne:  Do you have a 30 second thing you say to people when they ask what your book is about? Does what you say change if you know the person who asked is from a ranching or military family?

Suzanne: I say, “Bull Rider is about a ranch kid from Northern Nevada whose older brother, a champion Bull Rider, is seriously injured in the Iraq War. The book is about how Cam O’Mara uses tradition, family, and faith to deal with his sense of grief and loss.”  No, I don’t think I change the “blurb” if someone is from a military or ranching family, but I may end up expanding on the book.
For the ranchers, I assure them that I talked to rodeo folks and ranchers and that I’ve done my homework. I tell them that I think the Western tradition and ranching, in particular, is an important part of our American heritage and that I want to share the values that go along with it. Who can argue with respect for land, hard work, and family? 
If I’m talking to military people I may share with them that I did some research with the VA hospital, on veteran’s blogs, and that my own family has been affected by the wars in the Middle East. I think it’s very important that kids think about the seriousness of war – the sacrifices that troops and their families make, and hopefully the responsibilities that they will have as citizens to help make informed decisions – both about the appropriateness of future wars and about the debt we owe to those who give up so much to fight in them.

Rosanne: Rodeos are common all over the American west. Why did you choose Northern Nevada for the setting of Bull Rider?

Suzanne: This one is easy – I live in Northern Nevada and love it. I know how it smells and how the people talk. I know what animals you’ll see at night and how the weather changes from season to season. I know that Nevada buckaroos where taller hats and different spurs from Texas cowboys. I’ve watched my neighbors round up and brand cattle and interviewed ranchers and local bull riders. This is my home and I was honored to write about it.

Rosanne: The details of the bull riding are particularly vivid. How did you research them?

Suzanne: Well, I’ve been to a rodeo or two (ok, more) and I was lucky enough to interview some professional bull riders when the PBR was in Reno. I got a “back stage” look at the bull riders, the bulls, the set up etc.. I also spent some time at a local bull ring – saw a couple of kids take their first bull rides, talked to one who’d had his head stepped on and hadn’t been on a bull since – that sort of thing. A lot of people I know did rodeo or have a relative who did and you hear stories. No, I’ve never been on a bull – but I got to stand up on the chute and watch the riders “get on” them. I’ve herded a few cows around and ridden horses. The internet was a good resource too.

Rosanne: How about the elements of the book pertaining to veterans and traumatic briain injury? How did you research those?

Suzanne: I started out thinking Ben would be paralyzed and read a lot about different types of paralysis, but when I actually talked to people who work with injured vets from Iraq, they told me that traumatic brain injury was what they saw over and over again in injured vets. I researched that online, by interviewing professionals who work with TBI patients, reading blogs of soldiers with TBI, read Bob Woodward’s book “In and Instant” about his recovery from TBI, and finally visited the TBI/Polytrauma Unit at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto. There is an emotional quality to watching someone you love lose faculties and be frustrated by it. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced some of this with my own family members over the years – although it’s not due to TBI – and I was able to draw on that too.

Rosanne: Do you have a favorite part of the writing/editing process?

Suzanne: I love when the idea first gels and I know that I have a book that I can be passionate about. And in revision, I love the moment that I get a solution to some complicated problem – like how do I take out this character and make the book work? or now that I’ve changed such and such, how will the timing and sequence have to change to keep the pacing right. I like the initial rush of creation and later I love the puzzle of making the book sing in all the right places.
6.    You have a wonderful cover. I love the colors. Did you have any input on the cover design?
Yes, I was able to see some possible covers and to give my input on which ones I liked and which color schemes. In the end, it was the great team at Margaret K. McElderry who came up with just the right combination for the Bull Rider cover. I couldn’t be happier – and yes, I favored orange. Jacket design and photo composition, BTW. is by Krista Vossen.

Rosanne: What was the funniest thing that happened while you were working on Bull Rider.

Suzanne: When I went to the local bull ring to observe, the bull fighter (who was about nineteen, I guess) was playing around in the ring with one of the bulls before any of the riders were ready to go. Someone yelled "Hang your hat on his horn." Of course the guy did-- he'd been dared, right? And he turned around and the bull shook off the hat and took that horn and darned if he didn't rip that guys jeans open from the bottom to the waist just like opening a zipper. Then the bull fighter was in the ring with his pants dangling and his bum hanging out. He worked the rest of the evening that way, while a deep red stripe colored up the back of his leg. I put That scene in the book.

My First Book!

         As eager as I am to tell you about my debut novel, Heart of a Shepherd, I can’t get Tuesday’s inauguration off my mind. Here’s why.

         I was born in Oak Park, IL, a suburb of Chicago which was in the late 60s just beginning to become integrated. My parents were very involved in the civil rights movement at the time.

         What I remember most are the exchange students my family invited to live with us to help people get used to having people of color in the neighborhood. I remember walking to the park holding hands with Jitendra when I was five. He was from New Delhi. Someone at the park said a word to him I didn’t understand. I assume it was a racial slur. What I did understand from the look on her face as she took her children away from the park was that this grown woman did not want me to be holding the hand of a black man. I could tell she was afraid of a person that didn’t scare me at all. It was a tremendously empowering moment, to realize that I didn’t have to swallow every little fear someone else spooned up for me.

         Many people have said they never thought they’d live to see the day we would have a black president, but for me—knowing I was free to turn away other people’s fears, that we are all free to let go of fears that serve no good purpose—I have always known, we’d see this day.

         As a new author there are plenty of things I might choose to fear: reviews, censorship, the current economy. I’m grateful to be a member of the Class of 2K9. It has been wonderful to have classmates who share this enterprise of moving from the writers we’ve always been to slightly more public people, authors. I’m also grateful to my amazing family and my steadfast editor for helping me choose not to be afraid of telling the truth about what it means to send someone you love to war. That’s the heart of my story.

         The beautiful cover is by artist Jonathan Barkat and designer Jan Gerardi. My classmate Suzanne Morgan Williams will be posting an interview about my book at the class of 2K9 website on Monday, January 26th